BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Williamson and TVWorks Ltd - 2010-077

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Tapu Misa
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
Dated
Complainants
  • Desiree Williamson
  • Douglas Williamson
Number
2010-077
Programme
Campbell Live
Broadcaster
TVWorks Ltd
Channel/Station
TV3 # 3

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Campbell Live – item and follow-up item reported on SPCA seizing neglected horses from Douglas Williamson’s farm – allegedly in breach of accuracy and fairness standards

Findings
Standard 5 (accuracy) – viewers would not have been misled by either item – not upheld

Standard 6 (fairness) – Williamsons were well aware of the nature of the programmes and were given a fair opportunity to comment – not unfair – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcasts

[1]   An item on Campbell Live, broadcast on TV3 at 7pm on Tuesday 30 March 2010, was introduced by the presenter saying, “Tonight we’re exclusively with the SPCA and police as they seize dozens of neglected horses from a Christchurch farm.” The presenter said:

...we begin in Christchurch with a question: why did what you’re about to see take so long? At the centre of the question, animals belonging to horse breeders the Williamson brothers. The SPCA has seized those horses, but it’s the 30th of March and concerns about their welfare were first raised last October. [Here’s our reporter] on a highly charged rescue mission that seems to be a long time coming.

[2]   Immediately following this, numerous still photos of the horses were shown. Accompanying the photos were voiceovers by two females who said, “Sick horses, hungry horses, injured horses. Ribs, hips, spines, skin and bones was what I witnessed,” and, “Some of them couldn’t even walk properly, they were getting caught in fences, there was no water, no feed whatsoever.”

[3]   The reporter then spoke from the farm in Halswell, Christchurch. She said that the previous day, authorities had seized every horse on the farm bar one, which was found dead. However, the reporter said, “on Sunday the brothers took 12 horses off the property themselves and are hiding them.”

[4]   Comments were included from the owners of the farm, John and Doug Williamson, an SPCA national inspector and concerned neighbours.

[5]   At the end of the item, the presenter said that the SPCA would like viewers’ help locating the 12 missing horses.

[6]   The following evening on 31 March 2010, Campbell Live broadcast a follow-up story in which the SPCA seized the 12 missing horses. The presenter introduced the item saying:

Last night we brought you the story of dozens of neglected horses at a Halswell farm in Canterbury operated by the Williamson brothers. An RNZSPCA sting that we were there to film saw the horses taken away but before the sting began 12 horses had been shifted elsewhere in a blue and white truck. We asked for your help in finding that truck and you did phone to tell us and as the authorities arrived to seize the horses today [our reporter] was there.

[7]   The reporter stated that the horses “were being kept on a dry back paddock a long way from the road near Kirwee in west Canterbury”. She said that the Williamsons claimed they had moved the horses to improve their condition, and had the following exchange with Doug Williamson:

Reporter:   But Doug this land has loose wire, coils of barbed wire, and not enough feed for
                them so it’s the same situation.

Doug W:    No, no there is plenty of feed down there and that’s for a professional person to
                ascertain, isn’t it?

Reporter:   Sure, but I mean I can see that these horses are skinny and they don't have
                 enough feed.

Doug W:    ... they’re just skinny just because they got here on Sunday.

[8]   The follow-up item also included comments from people helping to remove the horses, and the SPCA national inspector.

Complaints

[9]   Desiree and Douglas Williamson made formal complaints about the 30 March and 31 March items to TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that they breached standards relating to controversial issues, accuracy and fairness.

30 March item

[10]   With regard to Standard 4 (controversial issues), the complainants argued that the programme had not presented significant points of view. Ms Williamson said, “The SPCA spokesperson...was given authority to make assessments about the health of the herd without any authoritative standard bred opinion being included”. The complainants also noted that an unnamed woman was interviewed, who gave the opinion that there was “no water and no feed whatsoever”, but no alternative view was presented. Similarly, the programme was unbalanced by only showing images of neglected horses, and omitting any visuals of healthy horses.

[11]   The complainants maintained that the programme breached the accuracy standard. They noted that Campbell Live had used still photos and a home video clip “with no date or verification that these horses were those belonging to the Williamson brothers”. They considered that this “gave the misleading impression that this was the present condition of all the horses on this property”, and that the veracity of the comments made by the unnamed woman interviewed was not questioned. Mr Williamson noted that one of these photos was also used on Campbell Live’s website, instead of selecting a photo of healthy horses, which had incited “a great deal of vicious response” towards the Williamsons, including comments on the website.

[12]   The complainants said that Mr Williamson and his brother disputed the comments made by the interviewee and that, had another neighbour been interviewed, the reporter would have learnt about the feeding regime including “unlimited hay 10 large squares, the equivalent of 17 bales per week, placed in different areas of the paddock so each horse could have unhindered access to the hay”, as well as the regularity of purchasing food and whether sufficient food had been purchased. In addition, there was no challenge to the SPCA’s assumption that the condition of the light horses, which were mainly young and more susceptible to illness, was a result of the lack of feed; their condition could have been due to a ground contaminant or water contamination. Mr Williamson maintained that, when the health of the horses did not improve, they had increased the amount of hay to the equivalent of nearly double the SPCA requirement. He said this could have been verified by talking to the farmer who sold them the hay. He accepted that some of the horses were light and in a less than ideal condition, but maintained that it was not from a lack of food, and that they were currently investigating whether the water supply was poisoning them. Mr Williamson argued that the programme at no stage challenged the SPCA assessment or the legitimacy of its actions in seizing the horses, which breached Standard 4.

[13]   Referring to guidelines 6b, 6c and 6d to the fairness standard, the Williamsons repeated their view that the photos and video clips used were “certainly not representative of the horses in their current state”. In addition, the Williamson brothers were not given an opportunity to comment on that material. They argued that viewers were not able to make a fair and accurate assessment of the current condition of the horses “when equal time was not spent on filming the whole herd”. Ms Williamson considered that the programme was unfair because it sought “to create ‘villains’ rather than providing the audience with the facts”.

[14]   The complainants maintained that John Williamson had explicitly told the reporter that he did not want to be interviewed or filmed, and noted that the reporter included him in the item even though Doug Williamson had agreed to answer any questions. They alleged that when asked about the horses that had been moved Mr Williamson had replied “we did not move any horses illegally”, and argued that the last word had been edited out which completely changed the meaning of his response. Clearly he had moved 12 horses, the complainants said, but “we were under no legal obligation or requirement whatsoever not to move any or all of the horses. In fact, it was a stipulation of the SPCA vet that ten horses be moved”. They considered that “TV3 constantly referred to these actions as unlawful and dishonest”.

31 March item

[15]   The Williamsons considered that the follow-up item also breached Standards 4, 5 and 6. They objected to the introduction which referred to “dozens of neglected horses” because it was “blatantly not true”. They argued that there was no visual or authoritative evidence even from the SPCA that there were dozens of neglected horses in their herd, and said that “any reasonable person could see that there are many very healthy horses present”.

[16]   The complainants noted that the photos and video clip from the previous programme were again included to imply that was the current condition of the horses. They considered that the reporter was inaccurate in stating that the horses “were being kept on a dry back paddock a long way from the road... skinny, scabby and without water”. This was not the case for all 12 horses, they said. Some were unwell and the owners were investigating possible poisoning of the water. The complainants noted that the farmer where they were being kept told the SPCA that a large amount of supplementary feed had been purchased, but this was not included in the item, and there was also a water race in the paddock. “The cameraman chose not to film the grazing, the water race or... the healthy horses,” they said. Mr Williamson also considered that the representation of the farm as a “dry paddock” was misleading, noting that it was filmed in autumn following a dry summer. They maintained that the standard of grazing offered at that property was superior and “again, the assessment of the condition of one or two horses is left to an unnamed person”. Ms Williamson argued that the reporter should have sought comment from an authoritative source regarding the overall health of the herd, and Mr Williamson maintained that the item was “just strategic editing to mislead the viewer”.

[17]   Finally, the Williamsons argued that the Campbell Live website content regarding the story was distorted and noted that it had encouraged “emotive comments”.

Standards

[18]   TVWorks assessed the complaints under Standards 4, 5 and 6 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. The complainants also nominated guidelines 6b, 6c and 6d to the fairness standard. These provide:

Standard 4 Controversial Issues – Viewpoints

When discussing controversial issues of public importance in news, current affairs or factual programmes, broadcasters should make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.

Standard 5 Accuracy

Broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure that news, current affairs and factual programming:

• is accurate in relation to all material points of fact; and/or
• does not mislead.

Standard 6 Fairness

Broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.

Guidelines

6b   Broadcasters should exercise care in editing programme material to ensure that the extracts used are not a distortion of the original event or the overall views expressed.

6c   Except as justified in the public interest:

• Contributors and participants should be informed of the nature of their participation

• Programme makers should not obtain information or gather pictures through
  misrepresentation;

• Broadcasters should avoid causing unwarranted distress to surviving family members
  by showing footage of bodies or human remains.

6d   Broadcasters should respect the right of individuals to express their own opinions.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainants

[19]   TVWorks first stated that its decision was confined to the Campbell Live items, as website content was not covered by the broadcasting codes of practice.

Standard 4 (controversial issues – viewpoints)

[20]   Looking first at Standard 4, TVWorks argued that the programmes did not discuss a controversial issue of public importance to which Standard 4 applied. “While the issue of animal treatment is considered by the media as cases arise,” it said, “this particular instance is not controversial in the sense that there is ongoing public debate about it.” In any event, TVWorks supported the reporter’s contention that “the SPCA inspectors, their vets and the International League for the Protection of Horses are experts in the field of animal welfare and horse welfare. Balance was provided in the story by the Williamson brothers themselves; there was no need to consult an external expert as well.” TVWorks considered that the complainants’ concerns would be better dealt with under accuracy and fairness.

Standard 5 (accuracy)

[21]   TVWorks considered each aspect of the complainants’ accuracy complaints in turn.

Use of undated photos and video footage

[22]   TVWorks provided a response from the reporter who said:

The photos were taken in early December 2009... and more were taken in early March around three weeks before the story aired. All these photos were taken on the property – they were the horses on the property. I don't think they were misleading. They put context around the story – showed that the condition of the horses had been bad for a number of months.

[23]   TVWorks noted that the introduction for the first item made it clear that the central issue was the length of time it took for the neglect of the horses to be addressed, and stated that the issue was first raised in October 2009. It therefore agreed that the photos and video were useful and accurate. TVWorks accepted that the photos would have been misleading if the horses had not been removed and their condition had significantly improved. It noted that these images were not the only images included. It said that the horses were filmed running around the property and “were shown indiscriminately” and therefore some of the healthier horses were shown.

[24]   TVWorks concluded that the date of the photos and video was not material and that this aspect of the programme did not breach Standard 5.

Unnamed female interviewee’s comments in 30 March item

[25]   TVWorks said that, although it had no reason to believe the woman’s statements were false, it considered that in the context of the entire item the comments were not material for the purposes of Standard 5. Even so, Mr Williamson was given a right of reply, it said.

[26]   With regard to the Williamsons’ argument that the programmes should have included information about the farm’s feeding regime, the reporter said:

Current feeding regimes were not relevant to the story because the SPCA had given the Williamsons time to comply with their orders, which the Williamsons failed to do. The result was the SPCA believed the best thing for the horses was to remove all animals from the Williamsons’ care...

[27]   TVWorks therefore declined to uphold this part of the accuracy complaint.

The legality of the SPCA’s actions in seizing the horses

[28]   TVWorks stated that the reporter was unaware of any illegality on behalf of the SPCA, and that it could not comment on this without further information. However, it said that it understood that the SPCA had a legal mandate to remove animals under the Animal Welfare Act 1999 and considered that the legal basis for the complainants’ argument was unclear.

Reference to “dozens of neglected horses”

[29]   TVWorks considered this reference in the introduction for the 31 March item was fair and accurate in the context of the seizure of the horses by the SPCA. The 30 March item focused on the ongoing health issues the Williamsons had with the horses. It accepted that the health of each horse could have varied over the period, meaning some could have improved while others could have got worse, “however the statement was about the overall condition that led all the horses to be seized by the SPCA”. TVWorks therefore considered that it was accurate “for Campbell Live to speak of the overall situation [as] one of neglect” and did not uphold this part of the complaints.

The misrepresentation of the farm where 12 horses had been relocated

[30]   TVWorks said that Campbell Live had no evidence that there was a water race on the site. However, Mr Williamson was given an opportunity to comment and he maintained that there was enough feed for the horses. There was no intimation that the dry grass was a negative aspect of their location, it said, it was merely mentioned as a descriptor. TVWorks therefore declined to uphold this part of the complaints.

Standard 6 (fairness)

[31]   With regard to the complainants’ argument that the Williamson brothers were not given the opportunity to verify that they owned the horses shown in the photos and video clip, TVWorks argued that the focus of the story was the removal of the horses. In addition to its arguments about the use of the images under Standard 5, it maintained that the Williamsons were given a fair right of reply and that their comments were broadcast, such as:

“The worst they should be taking are the horses that have not done so well. The horses in good condition they have no right to take.”

“I don't have to be told by the SPCA that the horses are bad. I knew one year ago that this is a problem.”

[32]   Responding to the complainants’ claim that John Williamson had told the reporter he did not want to be interviewed or filmed, TVWorks noted that John Williamson was shown talking to the reporter and looking at the camera. It considered that this was clear consent as Mr Williamson was aware he was being filmed and he continued to talk to the reporter.

[33]   Finally, in relation to the argument that a comment from one of the Williamsons that “we did not move any horses illegally” had been edited to change its meaning, TVWorks stated that it could not find the alleged comment in either item.

[34]   TVWorks concluded that the programmes were not unfair and declined to uphold the fairness complaints.

Referrals to the Authority

[35]   Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Ms Williamson and Mr Williamson referred their complaints about both items to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. They referred only the accuracy and fairness aspects of their complaints.

30 March item

[36]   Ms Williamson maintained that the use of the photos and video footage was misleading and aimed to portray the Williamsons in “the worst possible light”. She said that the state of the pasture was not consistent with the dates given by the reporter regarding when these were taken. Mr Williamson also disputed the dates given, and said he would have welcomed the opportunity to comment on the current condition of the horses, which was relevant to the legitimacy of the seizure of all horses. He reiterated his view that the reporter should have questioned the legitimacy of the SPCA’s actions.

[37]   Ms Williamson noted that the item had not included their objection to the fact that no independent person had assessed the condition of the horses; only one SPCA vet. She disagreed that the overall condition of the horses was “one of neglect”.

[38]   Ms Williamson stated that a veterinary opinion had subsequently been obtained, which concluded that of the 29 horses, five or six were in an unacceptable condition due to “a heavy worm burden”. She said that the vet confirmed that blood tests revealed that the condition of those horses “was NOT a result of chronic malnutrition”. In addition, following the seizure it was discovered that these horses and the stallion were affected by iron toxicity in the water supply. As a result, she said, although they were continuously fed, and wormed, their condition was the same or not improving.

[39]   Noting TVWorks’ assertion that the website content was not relevant, Ms Williamson maintained that “the fact remains that using emotive visuals where horses are photographed to convey the worst possible condition does result in an audience making emotive judgements” and that the comments were engendered by the broadcast.

[40]   Ms Williamson stated that legal action was currently underway to have the horses returned, and that the actions of the SPCA in removing them were under question.

[41]   In response to TVWorks’ argument that the Williamsons were given a right of reply, Ms Williamson maintained that Douglas Williamson’s comment that they could not comply with the SPCA’s orders pertained “to a requirement to have his horses’ feet trimmed. He is absolutely not referring to not being able to comply with feeding regimes. These were always being complied with and that is why it is important to check the veracity of feeding regimes.”

[42]   Turning to fairness, Ms Williamson said that, if the focus of the story was the removal of the horses as TVWorks argued, “then surely the condition of all the horses is material, and thus ensuring the accuracy about the condition of all the horses, and the legitimacy of their seizure in law”.

[43]   With respect to the filming and interviewing of John Williamson, Ms Williamson stated that neither John nor Douglas Williamson had any experience with the media, and both were in shock as their horses were being seized. If he was looking at the camera, she said, “he categorically was not meaning that his comment was going to be included in the item, or that this was agreement to be interviewed. He would assume that your reporter would respect his request”. She repeated her view that one of his answers had been edited to change its meaning.

31 March item

[44]   The complainants repeated the arguments made in their original formal complaints.

Further Comments from the Complainant

[45]   Mr Williamson provided the contents of a draft website he had constructed which he considered proved that his horses had been wrongly seized by the SPCA and that the Campbell Live programmes were inaccurate and unfair. He maintained that the programmes had not shown “the vast majority of horses in average condition about 12 in number, or good to excellent 12 horses”, but had shown only brief shots of the horses galloping and of sick horses, which had been taken at a different time. He said he had explained to TV3 why the stallion was kept confined. Mr Williamson considered that “the actual condition of our horses on the day in question” could be proven by viewing photos taken by the SPCA and the condition scores given to the seized horses. However, the SPCA would not provide these, he said.

[46]   Mr Williamson reiterated his view that the condition of the horses was not due to malnutrition. He supplied a vet report which he considered was “irrefutable scientific evidence that this problem in 25-30 percent of our horses was not due to starvation or malnourishment”. The vet considered that the problem was an overburden of worms, though Mr Williamson disputed this as they were worming the horses regularly, and said that if that was the case he believed it was a result of mineral toxicosis in the horses’ water. Mr Williamson argued that “it is significant that no vet identified this problem or even suggested it was a possibility even though the SPCA vet was monitoring these horses for three months previously.” He also noted that the SPCA would not allow any vet to inspect the horses until 8 April, approximately 10 days after the horses were seized. Mr Williamson emphasised that the vet report expressly stated that the results for the five horses (out of 29) which had blood tests did not show symptoms expected in chronically starved horses.

[47]   The complainant maintained that the condition of the horses was due to the contamination of their water. He argued that the symptoms they manifested were consistent with iron toxicosis resulting from a significant level of iron in the water. Whether or not it was a worm infestation or water contamination, Mr Williamson considered it was “established that it was not malnutrition”.

[48]   The complainant submitted that for the Authority to dismiss the complaint it would have to conclude that “the TV3’s programmes’ theme and perception that all our horses were undernourished and suffering malnutrition [was] correct”. He maintained that “the perception portrayed [was] clearly and unequivocally false,” as demonstrated by photos of his horses which he provided to the Authority.

Authority's Determination

[49]   The members of the Authority have viewed recordings of the broadcasts complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

Preliminary Matter

[50]   The Williamsons made a number of arguments in relation to content on the Campbell Live website. The Authority does not have jurisdiction to consider print content on the internet and we have therefore limited our considerations to what was broadcast on Campbell Live on TV3.

Standard 5 (accuracy)

[51]   Standard 5 states that broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure that news, current affairs and factual programming is accurate in relation to all material points of fact, and does not mislead. The Williamsons argued that a number of aspects of the programmes were inaccurate or misleading. We deal with each of these allegations individually below.

Use of undated photos and video footage

[52]   The Williamsons noted that Campbell Live had used still photos and a home video clip “with no date or verification that these horses were those belonging to the Williamson brothers”. They considered that this “gave the misleading impression that this was the present condition of all the horses on this property”. TVWorks maintained that all of the photos had been taken on the property in December and March, and were used as context to illustrate the horses’ condition over a period of time. The Williamsons disputed the dates that the photos were taken.

[53]   In our view, while it would have been useful to specifically identify the dates of the photos and video, it was clear from as early as the presenter’s introduction when he said, “it’s the 30th of March and concerns about their welfare were first raised last October,” that the situation between the farm and the SPCA had been going on for several months. It was therefore not misleading to include images that had been taken in the months leading up to the seizure, to set the context for the story. In addition, we consider that sufficient footage of the horses on the day of the seizure was shown to allow viewers to make a judgement about their present condition. Accordingly, we find that viewers would not have been misled in this respect.

Comments made by unnamed female interviewee

[54]   The complainants argued that the veracity of the comments made by the unnamed woman interviewed was not questioned. The interviewee made the following comments in the 30 March item:

“Some of [the horses] couldn’t even walk properly, they were getting caught in fences, there was no water, no feed whatsoever.”

“It has been pretty upsetting considering we’d first seen them in December. The owner has been obviously feeding out some sort of hay and bits and pieces like that but it’s just a little too late.”

“There was at least a dozen of them that had got terribly worse. They couldn’t even walk, they were lethargic.”

[55]   Guideline 5a to the accuracy standard exempts statements which are clearly distinguishable as comment, analysis or opinion. In our view, it would have been clear to viewers that the woman who made the above comments was giving her account of what she had seen with respect to the neglected horses on the Williamsons’ farm. Her comments were clearly her personal opinion about the condition of the horses and her interpretation of the situation that had led up to them being seized.

[56]   Accordingly, we find that Standard 5 did not apply to her comments and we decline to uphold this part of the complaints. In any event, we consider that Doug Williamson was given sufficient opportunity to explain the farm’s feeding regime and to comment about the condition of the horses such that viewers would not have been misled in any way.

The impression that the reason for the horses’ condition was that there was not enough food

[57]   Ms Williamson argued that it was “blatantly untrue” that there was not enough food for the horses, and that the programme had not challenged the SPCA’s assumption that this was the reason for the horses’ condition. Both complainants emphasised that a vet had found that five of the horses had a heavy worm burden, and Mr Williamson maintained that the horses’ condition was due to water contamination. Further, he said that they were exceeding the feeding stipulations of the SPCA.

[58]   We note that the 30 March programme referred to “neglected horses”, “sick horses, hungry horses, injured horses”, and to Danny Boy the stallion living in a “tiny stall knee-deep in his own excrement”. The woman interviewed also commented that “The owner has been obviously feeding out some sort of hay and bits and pieces like that but it’s just a little too late.” In the 31 March programme the reporter referred to “skinny, scabby [horses] with no water”, and she had a conversation with Mr Williamson about whether there was enough feed for the 12 horses who had been moved.

[59]   In our view, while viewers may have got the impression that a substantial or major reason for the horses’ condition was that they did not have enough food, neither programme stated that this was the sole or major cause. As outlined above, there were also references to the horses being sick, injured, neglected, in unsatisfactory living conditions and without sufficient water.

[60]   In any case, we consider that the specific causes of the horses’ condition were not the focus of the programmes. It was clear that, whatever the cause, a number of the horses on the Williamsons’ farm were in poor condition. The situation had been escalating for some months up until the seizure and the Williamsons had been unwilling or unable to improve the horses’ condition. In these circumstances, we do not consider that viewers would have been misled, or that the specific causes of the horses’ condition were material to the overall focus of the programmes. We decline to uphold this part of the complaints.

The legality of the SPCA’s actions

[61]   The Williamsons argued that the SPCA had seized the horses illegally, and that the programme had not questioned the legitimacy of its actions. TVWorks stated that the reporter was unaware of any illegality on behalf of the SPCA, although it understood that the SPCA had a legal mandate to remove animals under the Animal Welfare Act 1999.

[62]   We have not been provided with any evidence that the SPCA acted illegally in seizing the horses. The complainants acknowledge that the horses were seized based on a warrant issued by a Justice of the Peace. In the programmes, the SPCA was visibly supported by members of the police. The reporter spoke to SPCA representatives and a national inspector about the condition of the horses and the period leading up to their seizure. In the 31 March item the reporter was shown discussing with Doug Williamson the fact that six of the horses had to be euthanized. Another man said, with regard to the condition of the Williamsons’ stallion, that he had “never seen anything like it in 15 years”. In our view, it was reasonable that Campbell Live would assume that the SPCA was taking appropriate action.

[63]   Accordingly, we have no basis for finding that the programmes were inaccurate or misleading in this respect.

References to “dozens of neglected horses”

[64]   This phrase was used in the introductions to both items. The complainants argued it was “blatantly not true” and that there was no visual or authoritative evidence that there were “dozens” of neglected horses in their herd. They said that “any reasonable person could see that there are many very healthy horses present”. TVWorks accepted that the health of each horse could have varied over a period, “however the statement was about the overall condition that led all the horses to be seized by the SPCA”. It considered that it was accurate “for Campbell Live to speak of the overall situation [as] one of neglect”.

[65]   In our view, the focus of the item was that the Williamsons’ horses had been seized, several months after concerns were first brought to the attention of the SPCA. There was sufficient footage of the horses in the items for viewers to appreciate that there was a significant number of horses seized, and the condition they were in. We therefore find that, while the statement itself was hyperbolic, the programmes were not misleading in this respect.

Misrepresentation of the farm where 12 horses had been relocated

[66]   The Williamsons considered that the reporter was inaccurate in stating that the horses “were being kept on a dry back paddock a long way from the road... skinny, scabby and without water”. This was not the case for all 12 horses, they said. Some were unwell and the owners were investigating possible poisoning of the water. The complainants noted that a large amount of supplementary feed had been purchased, and there was also a water race in the paddock. Further, the paddock was filmed following a dry summer. TVWorks said that Campbell Live had no evidence that there was a water race on the site. However, Mr Williamson was given an opportunity to comment, and there was no intimation that the dry grass was a negative aspect of the location.

[67]   We note that the reporter was shown discussing the state of the paddock and the feed with Mr Williamson in the 31 March item. They had the following exchange:

Reporter:   But Doug this land has loose wire, coils of barbed wire, and not enough feed for
                 them, so it’s the same situation.

Doug W:    No, no there is plenty of feed down there and that’s for a professional person to
                 ascertain, isn’t it?

Reporter:   Sure, but I mean I can see that these horses are skinny and they don't have
                 enough feed.

Doug W:    Yeah but they’re skinny, they’re just skinny just because they got here on
                 Sunday.

[68]   In our view, the reporter expressly raised the condition of the paddock with Mr Williamson, and he had sufficient opportunity to comment on the water and the feed, as well as the condition of the horses. Viewers were shown footage of the farm and of the horses on the farm. In these circumstances, we find that the 31 March programme would not have misled viewers in this respect.

[69]   Accordingly, we decline to uphold any part of the accuracy complaints.

Standard 6 (fairness)

[70]   Standard 6 states that broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in a programme. The complainants considered that a number of aspects of the programmes resulted in the Williamson brothers being treated unfairly.

The use of undated photos and video

[71]   The Williamsons repeated their view that the photos and video clips used in both items were “certainly not representative of the horses in their current state” and argued that viewers were not able to make a fair and accurate assessment of the current condition of the horses “when equal time was not spent on filming the whole herd”. TVWorks considered that the focus of the story was the removal of the horses and that the Williamsons were given a fair right of reply and their comments were broadcast.

[72]   As outlined above in paragraph [53], we consider that it was acceptable to use photos and video clips from previous months to set the context for the story, and the two programmes included sufficient footage of the horses for viewers to make an assessment about their current condition. Accordingly, we find that the broadcasts were not unfair in this respect.

It was unfair not to question the legitimacy of the SPCA’s actions

[73]   Ms Williamson argued that it was unfair that the item did not question “whether the SPCA [was] justified in seizing all the healthy horses”.

[74]   In our view, the complainants have not provided any evidence to suggest that Campbell Live should have questioned the actions of the SPCA as the primary organisation responsible for animal welfare in this country, and which had been aware of the situation for a number of months (although it did question why it had taken the SPCA so long to act). We note that in the 30 March item, Mr Williamson was shown commenting that, “The worst they should be taking is the horses that have not done so well. The horses in good condition they have no right to take.” John Williamson was also shown saying, “Come on these people must have seen bad horses... but you look at the condition of those horses. That is just ridiculous.” Accordingly, we consider that the Williamsons were given a fair and reasonable opportunity to comment on the seizure of the horses and the actions of the SPCA, and that they were not treated unfairly in this respect.

Fairness to John Williamson

[75]   The complainants maintained that John Williamson had explicitly told the reporter that he did not want to be interviewed or filmed, but Campbell Live included him in the item even though Doug Williamson had agreed to answer any questions. TVWorks considered that John Williamson had consented as he was aware he was being filmed and he continued to talk to the reporter.

[76]   We note that John Williamson appeared briefly in each programme, as part of the following exchange with the reporter:

John W:     Come on these people must have seen bad horses but on the whole, two or
                 three of them, but you look at the condition of those horses. That is just
                 ridiculous.

Reporter:   But John I know there were about 10 or 12 that were worse that were taken off
                 the property.

John W:    No there were not. Definitely not.

Reporter:   Well we’ve seen photos.

John W:     Definitely not.

[77]   In our view, it was not unfair to include this brief conversation in the 30 March item. In fact, we consider that John Williamson’s comments were included to provide the Williamsons with a chance to respond to one of the main points of focus in the programmes: the relocation of the 12 horses.

[78]   While there is a dispute as to whether the broadcaster agreed not to film him, John Williamson clearly engaged with the reporter and elected to talk to her. Because the footage did not portray him in a negative light, and in fact afforded him an opportunity to respond to one of the allegations made in the item, we find that John Williamson was not treated unfairly. We decline to uphold this part of the Standard 6 complaint.

Comment from Mr Williamson that “we did not move any horses illegally”

[79]   The complainants alleged that when asked about the horses that had been moved Mr Williamson had replied “we did not move any horses illegally”, and that the last word had been edited out which completely changed the meaning of his response. Clearly he had moved 12 horses, the Williamsons said, but “we were under no legal obligation or requirement whatsoever not to move any or all of the horses. In fact, it was a stipulation of the SPCA vet that ten horses be moved”. They considered that “TV3 constantly referred to these actions as unlawful and dishonest”. TVWorks stated that it could not find the alleged comment in either item.

[80]   Having viewed both programmes, we are satisfied that neither contained the comment, “we did not move any horses”. We note that the items contained the following comments with regard to the horses that were moved:

Reporter:   John I know there were about 10 or 12 [horses] that were worse that were taken
                 off the property.

John W:     No there were not. Definitely not.

...

Reporter:   Did you move these horses to avoid the authorities?

Doug W:    No, no. We moved them because in part of the stipulation was that we had to
                move ten horses.

Reporter:   The brothers say they did it to improve the horses’ condition.

[81]   Accordingly, we find that both brothers were given a fair opportunity to comment about the 12 horses that were relocated. Doug Williamson expressly stated that moving them was a stipulation of the SPCA. We therefore do not consider that Campbell Live “referred to these actions as unlawful and dishonest”, or that the programmes were unfair to the Williamsons in this respect.

[82]   Overall, we are of the view that the Williamsons would have been well aware of the nature of the programmes, and that they were given ample opportunities to comment. In fact, Doug Williamson featured prominently in both items presenting his views.

[83]   Accordingly, we find that the Williamsons were treated fairly and we decline to uphold any part of the Standard 6 complaint.

For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
14 September 2010

Appendix

The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:

Desiree Williamson’s complaint: 30 March item

1.           Desiree Williamson’s formal complaint – 26 April 2010

2.          TVWorks’ response to the complaint – 27 May 2010

3.          Ms Williamson’s referral to the Authority – 28 June 2010

4.          TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 12 and 22 July 2010

 

Desiree Williamson’s complaint: 31 March item

1.           Desiree Williamson’s formal complaint – 26 April 2010

2.          TVWorks’ response to the complaint – 27 May 2010

3.          Ms Williamson’s referral to the Authority – 28 June 2010

4.          TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 12 July 2010